Around 1 in 10 new mothers will suffer from Postnatal Depression (PND), that’s what the stats in the NHS Birth to 5 book say. Very kindly the paediatrician who saw my daughter just after she was born said I was even more likely to get it as I had suffered from depression before (following the death of my father when I was 21). Now I didn’t sit at home waiting for it to happen, I actually told myself it wouldn’t happen to me because I was stronger now. Strong or not I was wrong and, for the last 7 months I have been diagnosed with PND.
But what does that actually mean? You get a list of sterile symptoms in a booklet to take home from hospital, which if you read them in the first week will have most mothers convinced they have PND. The symptoms don’t quite cover the real feelings of PND and they don’t really tell you that PND is a very personal illness that affects each woman in different ways.
I can’t speak for other people but I want to talk about how PND has affected me.
For the first few months of Phoebe’s life, I had to be with her constantly. I worried that no-one else would be looking after her properly like I did. On the few occasions that I could be persuaded to go out without her, I just spent the whole time worrying that something awful had happened to her and I wasn’t there. My husband is a perfectly capable dad but I didn’t trust anyone and consequently got no rest because of it.
This has happened a few times, usually when I’m not with Phoebe and trying to do something which requires concentration like the shopping. My brain just seems to shut down and I get very confused to the point where I want to burst into tears. Thankfully they are happening a lot less now that I am working on getting better, but they haven’t gone completely.
Guilt and feeling i’m a bad mother
This is probably the main part of my PND and it’s also quite hard to describe. In my head I thought that being a mum would be easy; I had the perfect birth planned out, I would breastfeed straightaway, I would feel overwhelming love for my baby, I would have the full year of maternity leave available to me. None of these things happened.
Phoebe’s birth was very traumatic for her and for me, then, like many mothers I found that breastfeeding is not as easy as it looks. I began to look at my baby as a source of intense frustration and although she was beautiful and I did love her, something was missing. I felt bad for feeling like that and the spiral of bad feelings started from there. I didn’t want people to think I didn’t like my baby and I didn’t trust anyone to look after her, so I never gave myself a rest or even an hour to just relax.
I also worried about going back to work. Would I be able to cope? Who would look after Phoebe? Could we afford it if I worked part-time? The questions just went round and round in my head and I couldn’t answer them.
Working Things Through
I felt that there was no way out to my depression, but I did recognise that I was suffering. I have been lucky enough to have a very good health visitor who gave me some time, as I collapsed into tears at a baby clinic, and she then came round on a series of home visits to talk through how I have been feeling and to give me strategies to cope when I feel overwhelmed. I don’t manage my PND without the help of medication, my doctor was very understanding and praised me for recognising that there was a problem. Anti-depressants won’t solve the problem but they do make it easier to deal with the issues.
It’s not all been plain sailing, at first my husband and I thought that going back to work might help by giving me a distraction and a feeling of being more than just a mother. Unfortunately, the original plan for my return was scuppered by a colleague leaving, meaning I had to take over her classes, and moving into a different year management team with people I had never worked with before. To top it all I got Shingles three days after returning. But I haven’t let this setback beat me. My mother (who admits to suffering from PND herself) gave me the the mantra “If you can’t change it, change the way you feel about it” which I think is the key to working through PND. There are good days and bad days but more often than not, the good outweighs the bad.